There are no significant differences between the numbers of men and women who experience a mental health problem overall, but some problems are more common in women than in men.
Women are more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem than men (29% compared with 17%). This reflects women’s greater willingness to acknowledge that they are troubled and get support. It may also reflect doctors’ expectations of the kinds of health problem that women and men are likely to encounter.
About 25% of people who die by suicide are women. Again, women’s greater emotional literacy and readiness to talk to others about their feelings and seek help may protect them from suicidal feelings. Being a mother also makes women less likely to take their own life.
Women are particularly exposed to some of the factors that increase the risk of poor mental health because of the role and status that they typically have in society. The traditional roles for women from some ethnic groups living in the UK can increase their exposure to these risks.
The social factors particularly affecting women’s mental health include:
- more women than men are the main carer for their children and they may care for other dependent relatives too – intensive caring can affect emotional health, physical health, social activities and finances
- women often juggle multiple roles – they may be mothers, partners and carers as well as doing paid work and running a household
- women are over represented in low income, low status jobs – often part-time – and are more likely to live in poverty than men
- poverty, working mainly in the home on housework and concerns about personal safety can make women particularly isolated
- physical and sexual abuse of girls and women can have a long-term impact on their mental health, especially if no support has been received around past abuses.
- Mental health problems affecting more women than men
Some women find it hard to talk about difficult feelings and ‘internalise’ them, which can lead to problems such as depression and eating disorders. They may express their emotional pain through self-harm, whereas men are more likely to ‘act out’ repressed feelings, and to use violence against others.